By Dave Mabell
Southern Alberta Newspapers
“There are some very angry, upset people,” says Gary Bikman.
But the southern Alberta MLA — one of nine Wildrose members who switched to the ruling Conservatives this week — reports he’s also getting positive feedback from his Cardston-Taber-Warner constituents.
Bikman, party leader Danielle Smith, and seven others elected under the Wildrose banner were formally welcomed into Tory ranks Wednesday by Premier Jim Prentice. Weeks earlier, Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan was one of two Wildrose members who crossed to the Conservatives.
Since returning from Edmonton, Bikman says he’s fielded many calls from constituents as well as reporters. Some who voted for him in 2012 are irate, to say the least.
“Under the same circumstances, I would feel the same way,” he says.
After joining the party, donating money and helping Bikman campaign, they don’t understand how he could suddenly cut his Wildrose connection.
“Bless them, we couldn’t have done it (won election) without their help.”
During the election campaign, Bikman says, many Wildrose candidates won support on the basis of their emphasis on fiscal responsibility, property rights and an open and transparent government.
“And 440,000 people voted for us,” on that basis.
“I have spent the last three years fighting to elect a truly conservative premier who shares those beliefs,” Bikman says.
And now, several premiers later, the ruling Conservatives have selected that kind of a leader.
“Jim Prentice is exactly that kind of premier,” he says. He’s applying the same conservative principles and policies that Wildrose espouses, “And he has asked for our help to do this.”
If constituents remain upset, Bikman suggests, their anger could be based on party “loyalty” or partisanship. “Wildrose was a method,” used to promote those principles, he says.
“I’m hopeful that reason and principles will triumph over partisanship,” he maintains.
Constituency president Doug Cooper sounds hopeful, too.
The Wildrose organization is “in very good shape,” he says.
“We’re very strong in Cardston-Taber-Warner,” Cooper reports. “We have a lot of supportive people.”
The riding was the first to elect a Wildrose MLA — Paul Hinman — and it shouldn’t have any difficulty selecting a new candidate, Cooper intimates.
While unwilling to criticize Bikman, he says local “grassroots” members were not consulted before some Wildrose members jumped ship.
In Lethbridge, meanwhile, MLA Bridget Pastoor says it’s difficult to predict how voters will treat the ex-Wildrose candidates when the next election is called.
During Alison Redford’s time as premier, Pastoor moved from the Alberta Liberals to the Conservatives.
“I had to go through a tough nomination process and a tough election,” she says.
“I didn’t get any special help.”
After starting her political life as a Conservative during Peter Lougheed’s leadership, Pastoor says she felt ready to return to the fold as the Conservatives became more “Progressive.”
Looking to the next session of the legislature, Pastoor says Albertans will still hear strong voices from the opposition side.
“The Liberals and the NDP are very skilled at being the opposition,” she says. “They have many years of experience in that role.”
By joining the Conservatives, stresses Lethbridge MLA Greg Weadick, the former Wildrose MLAs are not changing the government’s focus or direction. They’re signing onto a set of principles and policies that Premier Prentice spelled out in the mandate letters he gave all members of his cabinet after he became leader.